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A long-planned restaurant that will fill an empty lot in the 1400-block of Hertel Avenue will finally see construction in the spring.

The Empire Grill is expected to see ground-breaking at 1435 Hertel Ave. in March and is slated to open late next summer. Nick Kotrides, the restaurateur who is developing the upscale diner, said he can't wait to start building.

"I'm excited about the restaurant, but I'm even more excited about what the building itself will bring to Hertel Avenue. We see it as a building that will be a cornerstone on the street, reflecting the old and yet being new and exciting," Kotrides said.

The owner of the Irish-themed Faherty's bar, and Toro, a Spanish-flavored tapas restaurant, which sit side-by-side on Elmwood Avenue, is known for his love of unique-looking buildings. And Empire Grill will continue that tradition.

Kotrides and Buffalo architect Catherine Faust have again teamed up to design a sleek two-story, brick eatery accented with gleaming aluminum and a glass tower element that mimics the scale of the North Park Theater, located across the street.

The art deco-styled building will feature a digital information ribbon running across the front facade of the building that will offer information about events and activities in the Hertel Avenue business district.

And like Faherty's and Toro, which were designed with windows and doors that open up onto the street to bring the outside in during warm weather months, the second floor of Empire Grill will have large sections of windows that can slide open.

"The second floor mezzanine will have a New Orleans feel to it, especially in the summer when we can open it up and let the air in," Kotrides said. "Our warm weather is so limited we should take as much advantage of it as we can."

In an unusual twist on traditional restaurant design, the Empire Grill's kitchen will be located in the front of the building, with an expanse of windows to give passers-by a clear view of food preparation.

The menu will be based on "home-style comfort food with a twist."

"We're aiming for a fresh take on family dining. Familiar foods with a little edge," Kotrides said.

Among the offerings will be rotisserie-cooked chicken, pork and salmon. The eatery will also have a full-service bar.

When construction begins, it will fill a gap in the thriving commercial district left by a 2000 fire that wiped out a handful of small businesses. The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) acquired the empty lot with hopes of returning it to productive use.

"We think it's a great use for the site and we're anxious to see it completed. Nick is a class guy who does great projects," said BURA official David K. Sengbusch.

First proposed more than a year ago, the project has been slow to reach the construction phase. A variety of hurdles, including building design, transfer of the property, and most recently questions about what might be buried at the fire site, have stymied progress.

"We certainly want this to happen and we'll do what we can to make sure he can start construction in the spring," Sengbusch said.

While the city's sale of the lot to Kotrides for $24,000 was finalized in September, BURA is looking at ways of defraying the new owner's costs to clean up the site, possibly through low-interest, city-backed loans or a rebate on a portion of the purchase price.


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